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Why So Many Professional Athletes Go Broke—and How I Avoided It

An NFL stadium

By Jedidiah Collins

The following is adapted from “Your Money Vehicle.”

In years past, many athletes would go from earning almost nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars as soon as they were drafted—sometimes becoming millionaires overnight. Yet, the documentary “Broke,” an episode of ESPN’s “30 for 30 series, claims that over 70% of professional athletes fall on financial hardships shortly after they retire. 

But with so much money being thrown around, it begs the question: Why do so many young, talented athletes wind up broke after playing at the highest level, and potentially earning millions?

*Note: The advent of NIL deals for college athletes may have changed things a bit, but most of this still holds true!

That’s the question that concerned me when I first entered the NFL. Fortunately, I learned how to manage my finances so I could break free from the trend, and grow my money instead of losing it. 

Even if you’re not a pro athlete, you can benefit from these same tips to make the most of your paycheck, too. 

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/FZgFGLMTGuE

The pro athlete dream

A lucky few defy the odds and get to walk even a day in the dream world of being a professional athlete. And to learn that the majority were walking away after retiring with little or no money shocked me!

I wanted to break down just how many athletes get to achieve “the dream,” which I’m defining as such: Having a professional athletic career and retiring with some money to show for it. In other words, “the dream” is not simply getting a chance in a professional league as a rookie, but walking out of the locker room having taken from the game more than it took from you! 

Here’s a quick analysis of the odds of living the “dream” as a professional athlete: 

I was determined to be a minority, the 30% who would use the game, and not be abused by it.

Playing Money Checkers vs. Money Chess

Being financially illiterate at the start of my NFL career meant that I was playing checkers with my money, financially moving one space at a time—$30,000 in, and $30,000 out—never strategizing a plan. 

If I didn’t come up with a strategy to manage my money, I’d wind up in the 70% who retire with little or no money.

So, I wanted to learn to play chess with my money, and how to create a plan. In chess, each move has its own advantages, and the goal is not just to get to the other side but to strategize a checkmate. To achieve my goal, I would need to learn how to play this new game. 

The problem was, no one in the locker room knew how to play “money chess.” So, I went outside the locker room and asked my brothers, who are highly educated, how to strategize using my money. I came away with more questions than answers.

Next, I turned to personal finance books—gems from Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, and, of course, Warren Buffett

That’s when I learned the “golden rule” of personal finance—the rule that can keep anyone, professional athlete or not, from falling into financial ruin.

Follow the “golden rule” of money

The “golden rule” in any financial plan is: do not spend more than you make. And focus on what you KEEP!

This rule can be devastating to professional athletes when they are done playing. Their lifestyle has grown along with their paychecks and the prestige of their profession, and then the game stops—and their income goes to zero. But their lifestyle remains inflated. Naturally, this is unsustainable and ends in debt. 

I managed to avoid that fate and become one of the 30% to achieve the professional athlete dream by creating a plan for myself both while I was playing, and for after I would retire. As I mentioned before, whether you’re a pro ballplayer or an average Joe, you can create a plan and you’ll save yourself from many of the financial problems people face in the world today. 

Check out the Money Vehicle course for more!

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